Quartzsite Library Unfair to Vet and Pensioner

Picture of Quartzsite Library
Think of this title as a placard. A rectangular bit of cardboard atop a 1×4 stick of wood hoisted in the overly hot Arizona air held by the sweaty and angry hand of a USAF Veteran and ill health pensioner from HMPS standing in front of the “unfair” Quartzsite Library. A 56 year-old man who is temporarily “down on his uppers” as they say and more than a little annoyed at the condescending attitude by one member of staff at the local public library.

Over a week ago, I was in the local library near the door, which is the least freezing part of the facility, using my laptop to watch Hulu, write reviews, email and do other chores on my website. My MacBookPro was plugged into the electrical socket under the row of computers for free use in the library. As I plunked away at the keys, a lady volunteer (who has been rather short with me before) sauntered past and stopped abruptly.

“Is that plugged it?” she asked. Pointing at my Mac with her voice raising she continued, “You are not allowed to charge your things in here.”

I stopped typing, “Yes it’s plugged in, but it isn’t charging as it is fully charged. I’m just trying to keep it that way.” I smiled.

“You can’t do that, it is not allowed,” she said. Reaching down I unplugged my offending MacBookPro. “You are welcome to use the free computers,” she continued, “and you can use your laptop but only on battery.”

“Well,” I asked, “Could you tell me why using the same electricity for my laptop that a computer would be using is not allowed?”

No answer. She whirled around and headed back to her station behind the check out desk. I followed. “Is there someone I can talk to about using my laptop without the battery instead of the computer. I have software on my Mac that is not on your Window’s system that I need for my website.”

In a tone laden with frosty overtones she repeated that I could use my laptop with the battery. I then explained that my poor old battery only ran for about an hour or so.

Looking down her nose at me she said loftily, “Sounds like it’s time to get a new battery.” My “Hulk” meter immediately shot up to the very top and before “greening out” I replied. “No, sounds like its time to go someplace else. Good day.”

I was seething. Not just because of the obvious; if I could afford to purchase a new Apple battery with a longer life then I would not be using their free WiFi along with every homeless desert rat for five miles around. I would be at home, or in the Internet Cafe, which costs money to access their WiFi, it was mainly because of her sh*tty and snotty attitude that my anger levels hit danger levels.

Since being in Quartzsite, I have tried to be polite and friendly to all I meet. This is my home for the moment and I intend to “be a good neighbor.” The only denizens I am not nice to are the ones who feel the need to run me off the road on my bike or act in manner less friendly than I would like.

So I am boycotting the library as a result of this volunteer’s poor and insulting attitude. After telling my chums at Burger King, where I now go everyday to access their free, and stronger, WiFi, they suggested that I should complain. I did, but apparently neither the library or the town manager, who is at the top of this local food chain, read their emails. I have not gotten reply to either message of inquiry.

I do not ask for an apology, but I would still like the question answered about the plugging in of the laptop. If one looks at the “posted” rules in the actual facility there is nothing about just using your battery. Still, they have lost not only a customer but any good will that I’d been harboring for the other volunteers who were, admittedly, very nice to an old guy who talked funny.

So, until I get an answer to one of my emails, please picture me with a placard in hand stating that “Quartzsite Library are Unfair to Vet and Pensioner.”

Life in the Real Desert: Living with Nature

Cartoon SpiderI know that the whole living with nature thing has sort of gone to my head. All the animals, lizards, insects and unidentifiable creatures which make up life in the real desert have gotten my attention. Sometimes these four, and more, legged denizens have increased my blood pressure and adrenaline levels.

Over the past three or four days there have been some visitors to my new abode that were less welcome than others. A three inch long scorpion who had a definite fascination with my right foot was one that startled me into my Michael Flatley impression a la River Dancing, or as they say in this country Clog Dancing. While I may have had trainers (sneakers) on my feet, I was still stamping away with frantic enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, I have no idea whether my trainer clad foot killed the desert denizen with the stinging tail or not. One last stomp and smear, you know what I mean the old down and drag movement, left only a rusty orange smear on the porch and when checked the sole of my trainer held no remnants of Mr. or Mrs. Scorpion. This means there may be a good-sized vicious creature out there hunting for a balding older chap with black trainers. I probably should warn my neighbors…all three of them.

Scorpion King action figure

There have been some fairly largish spiders as well, one was in the side room which was attacked with a spindly plastic flyswatter at first. This arachnid fell to the floor and quicker than The Flash, made off to a spot in the room behind my desk and disappeared. A few days later it appeared on the ceiling again and this time a flip-flop sent it to spider heaven.

Last night, while standing on the porch for a little night air, a monstrous eight-legged spider moved along the ceiling of the metal roofed porch (What is it with spiders and ceilings?) and then, as I stood transfixed, started moving slowly down the front door. As it reached face level, mine not his or hers, off came the leather flip-flop and bang!

Before feeling too much sympathy for this giant creature, bear in mind that, including legs, it was the size of my hand. Not a tarantula, not furry enough, but a similar size. Now here is the shivery part, once its body thudded to the porch floor, the flip-flop went back on my foot and I stomped the merry hell out of the apparently lifeless corpse. (Spiders can and do “play dead.”) Despite my approximate weight of 186 pounds, the body never “mushed” up.

I then took this very solid body and swept it into the dust pan and chucked it off the porch. Then, after allowing the goosebumps to subside, I went back into the house to find another, smaller, spider on the ceiling of the side room again. Scratch one more trespassing bit of nature.

I am not afraid of spiders. When working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service I noticed that these murderers, car thieves, drug dealers, rapists et al were all terrified of spiders. Being in the countryside large grass spiders used to come in all the time. While these tough guys screamed, cried and leapt on their single beds, we would pick the creatures up and toss them out the window. The sight of the lads practically passing out was worth it.

I do, however, have real issues with the larger arachnids sharing my bed or crawling over my face while in the Land of Nod. All of the other creatures I’ve encountered are cute and lovely to look at. They are also animals; ground squirrels, prairie dogs, jack rabbits with long brown tails who walk, or trot, like a dog and deer. I like coming across all of these.

As for that spider I count myself lucky that it did not make the floor. If we had been on even footing our altercation might have ended very differently and I could have been the one chucked off the porch.

The Trouble with Writing Memoirs

CD cover for The Moon's a Balloon
I remember reading David Niven’s account of issues he faced while writing his “Hollywood” autobiographies. For those who have no idea what I’m on about, the two titles were Bring on the Empty Horses and The Moon’s a Balloon, a compilation of tales, both his own and borrowed, about the Hollywood of old and his time in it. In an interview with someone, he tells of sitting in his garden and being distracted by literally everything. “Oh look! There’s a jet flying overhead…” was just one great example given by the author.

Sitting down and recollecting my own memories of working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service as, to the best of my knowledge, the only “Yank” in the service and definitely the only one with Native American heritage, has been an uphill battle. Not necessarily the remembering, that part is pretty easy, but the documenting has been a bit problematic. Sitting in front of my laptop does not automatically prompt instantaneous recall for inclusion. At night however, just as sleep begins to claim my non-cooperative brain, funny and memorable events from my time at Warren Hill flood in.

From the lad who decided to escape on the day of his release to the day the prison “lost” a youngster who found the perfect place to hide all prance across my mind as I drift off.

I will not lie, there are other events that are not so pleasant, the day I got so angry at the female governor that it seemed a heart attack was imminent. The time “The Hill” lost two wings, both of which had been my work place for years until moving to another portion of the prison, because 7 lads rioted. Almost losing a good workmate and valued colleague in the same riot.

HMP/YOI Warren Hill Front Gate

The year we lost three friends from the staff to the grim reaper within a time span of mere months still haunts me, as I know it does all those who worked on The Hill. This was the one time that I actually cried in front of a prisoner. While explaining that a popular member of staff “will not be returning,” the lad, a “lifer” got angry. “You’re lying Guv!” Choking back the overwhelming sadness I looked the young prisoner in the face and said, “No lad, I’m not.” Tears streaming, I turned and left his cell.

It is not, however, the “bad” memories that make writing all this down so difficult. It is the reliving of all these events, good and bad. The funny recollections make me laugh just as hard now as then and the annoying ones still make me angry. I never intended to work for the prison service. Once I joined, though, it was something that I enjoyed and becoming, self admittedly, addicted to the adrenaline rush that working with juvenile offenders entails. The people whom I worked with, again good and bad, all made the job what it was and the lads we looked after insured there were no dull days at work.

During my interview, one of the then governors who was conducting the Q&A stopped in the middle of the process and said, “I hope you have a good sense of humour. These lads will make you laugh.”

He was right.

However hard the documentation of those days continues to be (Oh look! There’s another hummingbird!) I realize that if given the choice again, I would go back to work for Her Majesty’s Prison Service all over again. Only this time I would opt to not have the heart attack which resulted in my ill health retirement.

6 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

The Things We Do For Love

Burger King Sitting here in Burger King and munching my burgers, drinking coffee and cruising the net, I stumbled over an article by a “stay at home mum.” It was written by Liz Pardue Schultz and featured on Time’s website.

Her article pointed out, quite rightly, that being a stay at home parent in this day and age was not a job, but a privilege. Before I get a load of negativity passed my way, let me explain why I agree with the writer in her definition.

Back in the 1990s I had a bad back. No one could figure out why I was in constant pain and the amount of pills I took daily were ridiculous. I worked for ages, high as a kite, but still in agonizing pain. Finally, my doctor forced me to go to yet another specialist and thank goodness she did. The doctor used the latest technology to figure out what was wrong with me and how to fix it.

Despite all the bad press the NHS get, the organization saved my life twice, one figuratively and the other time literally. While I was waiting for surgery to sort out my problem, I became a “stay at home dad.” I looked after our daughter and cleaned the house. Pain was a constant companion and I was still taking handfuls of tablets but I had a captive audience for the frustrated performer that lurked just beneath my skin.

My daughter was, and still is, my favorite person in the world. Funnily enough, she was a mummy’s girl when she was very small, around nine months old or so, but when she got older, the funny chap who could do all the voices of each character in her storybooks suddenly got promoted above mum.

This guy would sing old songs, and teach them to her, and would spend hours getting her to drift off to sleep. After the surgery that completely fixed my back issues, I worked for two years at a nighttime job packaging and delivering newspapers and magazines. Six days a week I toiled and on my day off I slept.

Thee only thing that kept me sane was that I still picked up my daughter from school and had a few hours to spend listening to her day, telling her of mine, and playing games. A favorite was one where I would imitate Dean Martin and she would provide the chorus. The number one choice of song was almost always That’s Amore because in the chorus there was a woman who sang with such gusto she could have been performing for an opera. We would each compete to see who could match the singer’s range and decibel level.

After a while the job with the newspaper company got old, I had taken it to primarily get back into shape after the operation, and I learned that the Prison Service were hiring. I jumped at the chance as they had great retirement benefits in those days and it was shift work. The interview went well, although at the time I had no idea whether they “liked me” or not.

HMP/YOI Warren Hill

I took a pay drop to get my foot into the door and with the idea I could transfer from support, my first job, and become a prison officer proper, I left the nighttime job without a single doubt. Once I started my new job I realized I’d found the perfect job. Every other weekend off, many were three or four day weekends as well, the odd day off in the week and shifts that were sometimes only four or five hours in length.

Overtime was available, and necessary, when I first started. The pay for support officers was horrible and I could not wait to become a regular officer. The hours were the same for both jobs and after I was trained and upgraded to a “Guv” I still had loads of time to spend with my family.

While this was a blessing in terms of being with my daughter, it became a nightmare in terms of my marriage. My second wife had built up a lot of resentment when I was off with my back. Something faded in our relationship and she grew jealous of my bond with our daughter.

But this is not about the demise of my second marriage or my job in the Her Majesty’s Prison Service, it is about the things we do for love. The writer of the article (Remember that? Way back at the beginning of this Gone With the Wind post?) about being a stay-at-home mum not being a “job” made the point that the time she spent with her child was a privilege (I know, I’ve said that already.) but she was right.

I spent way too many years in a relationship that should have ended in the 1990s. I let a lot of overtime slip by and allowed some acting opportunities to pass because I loved spending time with my kid and when I wasn’t doing that, I was there for her when mum, or the world, would beat her up a little (metaphorically speaking) to help her understand or to just listen.

I could never understand mothers who fell apart when their kids grew up and left home. Until, that is, my own grew up and moved away to attend University. I had it easy though. I was urged to go up and visit my youngster whenever possible. This enabled me to continue playing video games with her, watch films with my “movie buddy” and learn what her life was like at “Uni.”

This worked out perfectly until she finished and by that time both our lives had changed forever. She moved in with me temporarily and then after I left the Prison Service, I moved in with her and her boyfriend. (A smashing chap who seems to have been made just for her.) The hardest decision I ever had to make was the one that took me back to the country of my birth and left my baby behind.

I have had an exciting life, nothing earth shattering, but normal? No, it could not be called that. But apart from my little adventures, lots of little things came together to make my decision to stick with a job that allowed me the maximum amount of time to enjoy my child growing up the perfect one. Sticking in a broken marriage was painful for everyone but it was still the “right” thing to do.

Amazingly, it was my daughter who helped me, inadvertently, to “man-up” and finally leave. God bless her and two close friends at work who helped me to grow up just enough to make my escape.

I still miss my “kid” but I know she’s in good hands, hers and her fella’s, and even though I miss her so much it hurts, we are both where we need to be.

I think.

Still, the things we do for love make up a lot of our life’s big decisions. Sometimes they are the wrong, or incorrect, thing to do, but often they turn out just right. Even if it takes years to figure that out.